Mata Ortiz Information

Editorial on Mata Ortiz

Enlarging upon the Legacy of Juan Quezada

No longer can there be any doubt about a jewelry industry in Mata Ortiz. Significant production is probably still a year away, but a beginning has been made. On March 20, the first sale took place. Out of appreciation, he said, for our introducing him to Mata Ortiz and for Spencer suggesting a name, Micky Vanderwagen gave us the distinction of being the first on record to buy a piece of "Matiz" jewelry. The name "Matiz" is more than simply a contraction of "Mata Ortiz;" it means in Spanish a hue of color, and color is one of the hallmarks of this new jewelry.

The attached photo shows that first piece. Made by Ariel Rentería, it is a silver bolo tie set with jet, turquoise, opal, pink coral, and mother-of-pearl. The design builds on the mythology of Paquimé, showing a guacamaya, or macaw, conversing with the Milky Way, one of the manifestations of the Plumed Serpent, Quetzalcoatl,. The graduated, circular symbols between the two indicate the shaman on his journey. No one can mistake this jewelry for Southwest Indian work or that of Taxco. It's flavor is its own.

  For those unacquainted with the story of this fledgling industry in Mata Ortiz, Micky Vanderwagen bought the old Pearson Sawmill property adjoining the village, leased out the agricultural operation to Chito Rentería, and converted the buildings into silver workshops. Last August, the first class opened with four students: brothers Ariel, Samuel, and Felipe ("Fili") Rentería Veloz, and Lázaro Ozuna Silveira.

Tuition is nominal. Anyone is welcome to learn. When in four to six months someone has learned enough to begin working at home, that will free up space for another person in the class. What an artist or craftsman produces, he can sell on his own or to Micky, as he likes, and he can obtain supplies from Micky or from any other source.

Micky's goal is to promote a jewelry industry that will have a "wholly new look," one based on Mata Ortiz designs and, so far as possible, using only materials from the region. The full curriculum will include handworking and casting silver, leather tooling, and lapidary, the latter including facetted-gem cutting. As students develop proficiency in silver-working and lapidary, they'll progress toward using gold and precious stones.

This beginning industry builds on the existing strengths of Mata Ortiz, which are mainly the legacy of one person, Juan Quezada. Those strengths include strong design, openness to innovation, a willingness to learn through technical and artistic experiment, and a thoroughgoing dedication to quality. Juan has an inborn sense of quality. I remember vividly that in the beginning years he never tired of stressing that quality was the key to the future of the village. That was a difficult idea to put across to his family and to others in Mata Ortiz. They knew all about hard work and producing things to sell, but to put your heart and soul into what it was you made? It was hard to convey, but Juan succeeded. Today the whole village understands quality.

In yet another important respect Juan stands out. In a family oriented society, he has a rare concern not only for his own family, but for the welfare of the entire village. Once in the early years he made the long trip to Saltillo to visit a tile factory, thinking tiles might provide an industry in Mata Ortiz for those who were unskilled in pottery. But as it turned out, everyone developed skills, so that wasn't necessary.

The Matiz jewelry industry follows in this tradition. Like Mata Ortiz pottery, it is a cottage industry that will stress innovation, strong design, and dedication to quality. The entire village will benefit. The economy of Mata Ortiz is strong but lacks diversity, leaving it vulnerable to the winds of change. Jewelry brings needed diversification. When demand is down for pottery, it will often be up for jewelry, and vice versa. Traders seeking jewelry in the village will see the pottery, and those seeking pottery will see the jewelry.

Jewelry is compatible with pottery in a special way. Pottery has the limitation that it occupies large amounts of physical space. Consequently it tends to fill up one's home, which means that a potter can't develop and work with a permanent base of customers but must keep looking for new buyers. His clients want to keep collecting, but they run out of places to put more pots. Jewelry, by contrast, has no such limitation. It occupies little space in a bureau drawer. Therefore, the same clientele can return year after year. If someone in the family is making jewelry, a family can keep its established customers—returning now to collect jewelry.

By wearing and displaying Matiz jewelry in public, moreover, collectors will spread the word about Mata Ortiz in a way they can't with pottery. Pots don't get out and about, because they are bulky and fragile. They must reside at home for only a limited audience. So jewelry is a powerful and complementary medium for spreading the word about Mata Ortiz and bringing in new pottery clientele.

No one could be better suited than Micky to introduce jewelry making to Mata Ortiz. His grandfather from Holland in the late 1800s founded the first trading post in Zuni Indian Pueblo. Micky feels an attachment to Mata Ortiz because it is so like the Zuni Pueblo he grew up in half-a-century ago. As the third generation of a trading family, he has an impressive knowledge of marketing and a global network of contacts. And like Juan Quezada, he has that rare, inborn sense of quality that made Mata Ortiz what it is today.

Micky was the individual most responsible for the high quality of Zuni jewelry up to about 15 years ago relative to other Southwest Indian jewelry. But in the mid 1970s, the old trading families including the Vanderwagens began to phase out of the retail end of the Native American art market. It was then that Micky's international contacts in jewelry told him they desperately wanted a "new look" in jewelry. That "new look" is now being realized. It's hard to think that it would ever have happened without the Mata Ortiz tradition, the legacy of Juan Quezada, to build upon.